In 2:3-11 John lists and discusses three tests of the faith that he says must be true of the believer. The follower of Jesus will keep His commandments (3-5a); walk in the same manner as He walked (5b-6); and love other believers (7-11). If these three things are not true about a person he cannot claim to be a follower of Christ. The discussion today focuses on the last of these tests.
John again – as he did in 2:1 – addresses his listeners very personally and affectionately. He calls them Beloved. He wants to stress the personal nature of what he is about to say.
He says he is not giving a new commandment to them, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard. He is about to tell them to love one another (John uses very similar language to this in II John 5). This precept has been around for as long as the law. Leviticus 19:18 says, “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” When Jesus dealt with the rich young man in Matthew 19:19 He told him it was one of the commandments the man needed to keep to enter the kingdom of heaven. And Jesus listed it as one of the two great commandments in Matthew 22:39. So there is nothing new in commanding believers to love one another – it has been around since Moses.
But it is likely that John is specifically referring to when they originally heard the gospel message from him. This explains his statement that it is the word which you have heard. The command to love one another was included in the original message he gave to them – there is nothing new about commanding them now. He says this again more plainly in 3:11 – For this is the message which you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another. The beginning refers to when they first heard the gospel. [Note that John seems to refer here to love between believers more than general love of others – it is probably a more narrow scope than Jesus’ words in Matt 22.]
However, he goes on in verse 8 to say that from another perspective he IS writing a new commandment to them. This new commandment is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. Jesus said in John 13:34, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” What is new? It is that this command is true in Him and in you. Jesus modeled what it means to keep this commandment perfectly by going to the cross. And it is true in you because we are able to keep it because of the coming of Christ and His empowering Spirit. Because of Jesus’ life on earth the darkness is passing away (note – it has not passed away, it is passing away). The power of sin to restrain us from loving is going away and the true light is already shining (I am the light of the world – John 8:12). We have His Spirit to enable us to love (Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold new things have come – II Cor. 5:17). This has never been true before; hence a new commandment.
So what is he saying overall? There is nothing new about the commandment to love one another – it has been around since the Law and was a part of both Jesus’ ministry and the gospel message of the apostles. But John’s readers are empowered in a new way to love as no one has before because of Jesus’ life and His Spirit. And the true light is shining in and through them and will eventually enable love to eradicate the darkness.
Thought: If John is referencing Jesus’ words to love one another, even as I have loved you, then the impetus behind the new commandment is God’s love. We are to love one another as God loves us. We are to live in God’s love and reflect that love to others. We are to understand how much we are loved and then in that light love others. It is much the same as mercy. Understanding how much mercy has been bestowed on us we are to be merciful to others. When we are not merciful to others it shows we have no understanding of or appreciation for the mercy extended to us. And so we love others because God loves us. When we do not love others it shows we clearly do not understand God’s love for us or we have not in fact experienced it (4:8).
Loving one another as Jesus loved His disciples and as God loves us is an example of walking in the same manner as He walked (2:6). It is also an example of what it means to keep His commandments (2:4). Thus it is both the third evidence of faith and a fulfillment of the first two.
If loving one another is evidence of the true light that is already shining in you, then to hate your brother is evidence of darkness in you. No one can walk in the light and hate his brother. If anyone says he is in the light and does not love his brother then he either is a liar or is deceived. He is actually in the darkness regardless of his claims. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all (1:5). To walk with Him in the light includes loving your brother.
Note that loving one another is not the means to get into the light. It is evidence that one is in the light. The same is true of keeping Christ’s commandments and walking in the same manner as He walked. These are tests – not means.
The one who walks in the light loves his brother and there is no cause for stumbling in him. This could mean that there is no cause for sin in him – there is nothing in him to cause a fall into sin. More likely, however, it means there is nothing in him to cause others to sin. He loves his brother and therefore does nothing to cause his brother to stumble. The person who loves a fellow believer places no obstacle in the believer’s path. This person promotes rather than deters the kingdom progress of others. This is the delightful fruit of abiding in the light. (Robert W. Yarbrough, 1-3 John; Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; 69.) And let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24).
As he was when he discussed the first two tests (2:3-6), John is very clear here. If you are in the light you love your brother; if you hate your brother you are in the darkness. There is no such thing as abiding in the light and not loving your brother. He also does not mince words when comparing those who love and those who do not – you either love your brother or you hate him. There is no in-between and no gray area. Light or darkness – love or hate.
He ends by elaborating on the one who is in darkness. The one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness. Anyone who hates his brother does not abide in the light but in the darkness – he is IN the realm of sin. Not only that, but he WALKS in the realm of sin. He is in sin and commits sin. His walk – the totality of his life – is characterized by sin because he lives in the sinful realm where only sin exists. And even more, he does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes. One of the ramifications of living and walking in the darkness is ignorance. One in darkness does not know he is in darkness and does not realize he is blind. He does not recognize sin because sin is all he knows. He is not in control but is controlled by his surroundings and circumstances. And he does not realize his ultimate destination is destruction – he does not know where he is going (Jn 12:35).
Paul described what it means to live in darkness in Titus 3:3 – For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. The one in darkness does not love as Christ loved. His love is circumstantial and contingent – and compared to what Christ and John command, it is actually hate. The one in darkness knows nothing of denying self; knows nothing of a life of submission. He is deceived, enslaved, envious, and hateful. He grants love to those who give something in return and removes it from those who do not.
The one in the light loves because he realizes what God has done for him and realizes the love Christ showed for him. He knows his own sin and sees others through that sin. He is poor in spirit – he knows what he deserves – and so can love others meekly, without pride and selfishness. In the light he sees who and what he is and knows he has no right to feel superior to anyone else or demand his rights from anyone else. He sees clearly that greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13). He knows that God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). He is not ignorant or blind; he sees the world for what it is and God for who He is and his brother for the fellow sinner that he is. He denies himself and takes up his cross and follows his Savior – and in the footsteps of his Savior he loves like his Savior. As he becomes conformed to the image of the Son he progressively adopts the Son’s love into his life.
Love will be characteristic of relationships between those who believe the following:
- Blessed are the poor in spirit – blessed are the meek – blessed are the merciful – blessed are the pure in heart – blessed are the peacemakers (Matt 5:3-9).
- Do not judge lest you be judged (Matt 7:1).
- Therefore, however you want people to treat you, so treat them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matt 7:12).
- Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven” (Matt 18:21-22).
- If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you (Jn 13:14-15).
- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).
- For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6).
- And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28).
- Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men (Rom 12:16-18).
- Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind let each of you regard one another as more important than himself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interest of others (Phil 2:3-4).
- Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you (Eph 4:29-32).
- Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (I Cor 13:4-7).
By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another – John 13:35.
What kind of love is so evident that all men notice it and characterize us by it?